Know Your Rights

Model Restroom Access Policies

Public restrooms have always been a civil rights battleground.

Bathrooms have played a role in virtually every civil rights movement in the United States. Controlling the way people use—or are not allowed to use— restrooms has been a tool for degrading people of color, excluding women from traditionally male jobs and keeping people with disabilities from accessing public accommodations and employment.

The public humiliation often involved makes it especially hard to confront bathroom discrimination and educate the general public. But the same basic principle holds true for transgender people and those who have confronted this issue before: Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity, including while involved in such basic human activities as using a public restroom.

Sample Cities and States that Got It Right

Information from states and cities around the U.S. that are doing a good job of addressing the restroom issue:

  • Washington, D.C., on gender-neutral bathroom signs: “all entities...with single-occupancy restroom facilities shall use gender-neutral signage for those facilities (for example, by replacing signs that indicate ‘men’ and ‘women’ with signs that say ‘restroom’).”
  • Iowa lays out the matter especially well: “[j]ust as non-transgender individuals are entitled to use a restroom appropriate to their gender identity without having to provide documentation or respond to invasive requests, transgender individuals must also be allowed to use a gender-identity appropriate restroom without being harassed or questioned.”
  • Washington State puts the onus on the boss: “All employers need to find [restroom] solutions that are safe, convenient and respect the transgender employee’s dignity.”    

Setting an Example: A New Policy for Transgender Employees of the Federal Government

“The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (DOL/OSHA) guidelines require agencies to make access to adequate sanitary facilities as free as possible for all employees in order to avoid serious health consequences. For a transitioning employee, this means that, once he or she has begun living and working full-time in the gender that reflects his or her gender identity, agencies should allow access to restrooms and (if provided to other employees) locker room facilities consistent with his or her gender identity. While a reasonable temporary compromise may be appropriate in some circumstances, transitioning employees should not be required to have undergone or to provide proof of any particular medical procedure (including sex reassignment surgery) in order to have access to facilities designated for use by a particular gender. Under no circumstances may an agency require an employee to use facilities that are unsanitary, potentially unsafe for the employee, or located at an unreasonable distance from the employee’s work station. Because every workplace is configured differently, agencies with questions regarding employee access to any facilities within an agency should contact OPM for further guidance.”            

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Contact Lambda Legal at 212-809-8585, 120 Wall Street, Suite 1500, New York, NY 10005-3904. If you feel you have experienced discrimination, call our Help Desk toll-free at 866-542-8336 or go to www.lambdalegal.org/help.